Saturday, September 16, 2006

What's Not to Understand About "No Torture"?

(Two week hiatus due to annual holiday.)

What’s not to understand about “No Torture”?

At Friday’s press conference, President Bush did another version of his “with me or against me” routine, declaring:

- that the once-secret CIA program of secret prisons and secret interrogations of “high value” terrorists has been crucial in stopping terrorist attacks in the U.S. and abroad;

- that the Supreme Court is part of the problem because it insists that the Geneva Convention’s Common Article 3 must be observed – so the administration will “deal the court out” in its proposed legislation;

- that the Geneva Conventions are vague and could be interpreted in as many ways as there are lawyers in all the countries in the world (my non-lawyerly interpretation of Bush);

- that without clarity in the law, CIA agents will not be effective because they will not risk any actions that might cross the legal line;

- if Congress doesn’t pass his proposed legislation on detainee treatment, he will “pick up his marbles and go home” by ending the CIA program – in effect saying, “and then just wait and see what happens.”

In the Armed Services Committee, Republican Senators Warner, McCain, Graham, and Collins joined with committee Democrats and passed a bill that is far less egregious than what Bush proposes. The human and procedural legal rights guaranteed to detainees under the Senate legislation are much stronger than what Bush is demanding. On the issue of clarity for interrogators about what is permitted and what is forbidden, standards are contained in the new Army Field Manual on interrogations.

Two other observations are in order. First, as Senator McCain said last December when the administration tried to kill the McCain anti-torture amendment, this is not about the “enemy,” this is about who we are, what standards we have. Secondly, there is wisdom in the old saw that whoever goes right up to the edge of the line between moral and immoral (or legal and illegal) behavior inevitably will cross the line. Moving the line like Bush proposes doesn’t resolve anything.

A final note: Senator Olympia Snowe has joined her fellow Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins in supporting the committee’s bill. One can hope that another old saying pros true: “As Maine goes, so goes the country.”

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Secretary of the Air Force's "Stunning" Proposal

Secretary of the Air Force Mike Wynne suggested yesterday that before the U.S. military employs overseas any directed-energy “non-lethal weapons” that have been under development for decades that the weapons be used in the U.S. when crowds get out of control. His rationale is straightforward: by using these “beam” weapons domestically to restore public order – essentially a policing function – the rest of the world would see that the U.S. is not developing new and horrific ways to kill other people.

I know Mike Wynne from West Point where we were roommates for awhile. This is vintage Wynne, and so too will be any response to critics. Mike is fully able to defend himself.

From my perspective, however, I think the suggestion is ill-advised and will not defuse the potential public relations morass that will come the first time U.S. forces use “less lethal weapons” (LLW) that emit millimeter wave or laser beams directed at people. Why? Because, just as war plans do not survive the first shock of battle, the actual effect of LLWs, regardless of the intent of the gunner, depends in part on each individual hit by the LLW. Dead is dead no matter whether the cause is a bullet or a beam of electrons.

For instance, U.S. police departments employ “TASER” weapons, a form of “stun” gun that works by delivering an electric shock up to 50,000 volts. (TASER is an acronym for Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle, first developed in 1969.) The gun fires two electrodes connected by wires to the gun to a distance of 15 feet. The shock induces such a broad loss of muscle control that the victim (target) simply collapses. But if an individual who is hit by a TASER has a heart condition, the electric shock could be fatal.

Mike and I went through the Vietnam era. It was a time in which trust in government plummeted and every pronouncement of the administration raised suspicion among significant segments of the population. The dominant emotion was fear followed closely by anger, all of which boiled over during the summer of 1968 at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Mobilized National Guard troops (6,000) and special police trained in riot control procedures were very evident on the streets of Chicago. The first fatality occurred two days before the convention began. Every day brought more demonstrations, more marches, more arrests, more injuries. While most encounters involved police using LLWs of the day – batons and MACE – on the third day of the convention (August 28), one protest march was turned back by National Guard troops armed with .30 caliber machine guns.

As in 1968, fear and anger – and their exploitation for partisan political objectives – are very evident today. And again, as in 1968, it is the White House that is intent on spinning the interpretation of events first by exploiting fear of a “new” 9/11 by trying to link September 11, 2001 to the larger “war on terror” proclaimed by President Bush. As for the anger, like the fear it seems concentrated among Iraqis, with the overwhelming number calling for negotiations to set a timetable for withdrawing troops and ending the coalition occupation. The longer the White House delays negotiations on how and when to initiate and conclude redeployment, the greater the anger and the more problematic the chances for sustaining a functioning democracy – in both countries.

As for pre-deployment “field testing” LLWs on U.S. citizens, that’s a non-starter from inception. No one – especially protesters not engaged in wanton destruction and disorder – is to be used as a guinea pig by the government as was done in the post-World War II 1940s and 1950s. That is the height of disrespect and disregard for the dignity of individuals. In democracies, the majority may rule but not ruthlessly. Safeguarding minority rights makes a democracy.

As significant and as widespread as fear and anger may be today, they will only become worse if the U.S. military follows another Vietnam policy: pulling out of research “promising” new weapons or LLWs – in effect, turning Iraq into a “proving ground” and conveying a lack of respect for Iraqis.

It is bad enough that Bush keeps repeating that the U.S. fights terror abroad so that the country will not have to fight it at home. That reveals total insensitivity if not indifference to the views, interests, emotions, and inherent dignity of Iraqis whose homeland – years before Mike became Secretary of the Air Force – was, in the words of one Iraqi, turned into the world’s “flypaper for terror.”

Monday, September 11, 2006

Sudan and Iraq -- Crossover Possibilities?

I was at a daylong seminar today. It wasn’t on 9/11; it was on Sudan. More specifically, it was on the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) between the Khartoum government and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) that finally ended one of Africa’s bloodiest and longest – 21 years – civil wars when both sides signed the CPA on January 9, 2005.

Listening to the speakers – some of whom spent years working out the on again – off again cease fires and facilitating the negotiations that, beginning in 1994, fitfully but in the end finally produced the CPA – I could not help but see some intriguing parallels between conditions in Sudan and conditions in Iraq. And while the differences were such that the solutions being attempted to end the civil wars in each country (yes, there is an uncivil civil war in Iraq) could never be the same, the possibility that each could borrow from the other was intriguing.

Consider just a few items.

Religious and ethnic divisions are significant factors in the violence in both countries. In Sudan, the population is characterized by numerous tribal divisions and subdivisions as well as religious divides: The ruling parties – chiefly the National Congress Party (NCP) that seized power in 1989 – represent the Islamic (mostly Sunni) and Arab community that has dominated the government since independence in 1956 while the SPLM and other small groups represent the non-Arab Christian and animist religious sects that had largely been marginalized for 50 years. There is also the non-Arab Islamic community that is under siege in Darfur. The NCP employed militias in the south to fight the SPLM armed forces as they still do the Janjuweed in Darfur. The new Government of South Sudan is trying to reach agreements with the so-called “other armed groups” into the regional structure in the south.

In Iraq, tribal subdivisions number by some counts as high as 2,500. Ethnically, the population is largely Arab and Kurds, with smaller groups of Turkomen Chaldeans, and Assyrians. Religious subdivisions are chiefly Shi’ite and Sunni, with a small Christian contingent.

Outside intervention exists in each country. In Sudan, sanctuaries have been carved out of small sections of territory by rebel groups and tribal factions fighting government forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighting government troops from Uganda. UN peacekeepers in the DRC have running battles with DRC rebels, and Uganda troops have gone into Sudan after the LRA. In Iraq, the “foreign jihadists” complicate the insurgent picture, but the overriding sentiment among most Iraqis is that the coalition forces are the occupiers.

Oil is a key factor in each case. In Sudan, the oil is concentrated in the south or in the vicinity of the boundary between the north and south of the country. Under the CPA, the south is to receive 50 per cent of the profits. But the only way to ship the oil out is by pipeline to Port Sudan on the Red Sea – in the north. In Iraq, most of the oil is in the Shi’ite south or Kurdish north, with little if any in the Sunni central sector. The oil-rich Kurdish entity is landlocked, and should the south vote for self-determination in 2011, it will be a landlocked oil rich entity also.

The constitutional process in each instance creates a form of federal state. In Sudan, there is to be a Government of National Unity (GNU), a Government of South Sudan, and “state” governments until 2011 when the south will vote for self-determination (independence) or to stay as one country. As part of the CPA, there will three armies: one in the north, one in the south, and joint integrated units under a centralized joint defense board as the “national” army. In terms of “security” in Darfur, the GNU, which is dominated by the Arab-Islamists, has said it would regard any new “peacekeeping” force with Christian soldiers from the west as an invading army, and it anticipates that at the end of September the current African Union contingent in Darfur will depart as scheduled.

In Iraq, the primary security effort is to build a national army and to seek the demobilization of the various militias associated with the sectarian power blocs. The Kurdish pesh merga is in effect a permanent army unto itself as are the northern and southern armies in Sudan. Legislation has been introduced in the Iraqi parliament to formalize the de facto federal system with a national structure and three sectarian-ethnic geographical regions: a Shi’ite south of nine provinces, the Kurdish north, and a “Sunni” center. The initial reaction by the Sunni bloc was to reject the proposal.

In each country, there are questions about rule of law, institutions of governance, role of Shari’a, and the best way to end the marginalization of minorities and the powerless. And perhaps the biggest question of all for the conferees – how best can the West try to influence the course of events so that these two countries develop institutions and practices that respect the dignity and rights of all their citizens?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Native Americans and (Not Against) the U.S. Military

Looking at the Fiscal Year 2007 Defense Department Appropriations bill – still pending in Congress even though there are no more than 14 legislative working days left before the new fiscal year begins – I came across Section 8033 which deals with something called the “Operation Walking Shield Program.”

Since this is a Pentagon funding bill, what came to mind were images from television and movies of ancient Greek and Roman armies with the shields of the infantry forming an almost impenetrable wall as the well-drilled lines advance on the ill-disciplined barbarians.

But in the legislation pending in Congress, “Walking Shield” was included in the Air Force, not the army, section under the rubric of a “civil-military collaborative program.” The program began in 1994 as part of a more extensive effort that goes back to 1986 “to improve the quality of life and create positive futures” for Native Americans living on reservations. In conjunction with the non-profit charitable Walking Shield American Indian Society, 960 housing units that had become excess to U.S. Air Force needs were physically moved from base housing areas to 13 Native American reservations.

Nearly half of the housing units – 463 or 48 percent – came from two bases: Grand Forks Air Base in North Dakota and Molstrom Air Base in Montana to the 13 Native American reservations. After they are in place, the homes are renovated – to include winterizing – and rented to families at a level that reflects their financial circumstance – which can run from zero to a few hundred dollars per month.

What does the Air Force get from the deal? The transfer authorized by the legislation requires that the transaction not cost the Air Force any dollars or that the Air Force receive any “consideration.” The service had planned to demolish the homes as keeping them up to code when no longer required would soon prove to be a fiscal black hole. By transferring the units, the Air Force avoids demolition and debris removal expenses. Moreover, USAF civil engineers gain experience in constructing foundations for buildings and digging wells, the sort of duties they might have to be able to do should a forward operating base be needed in a humanitarian crisis. And to get the houses safely to their destinations, hundreds of miles of roads on the reservations had to be regraded and repaired – a job done by Navy Seabees.

Making this program work required other U.S. government agencies to pitch in. After all, one cannot simply wave a wand, levitate a structure, and plop in down on a foundation and assume everything is done. Working on the basis of local involvement, tribal authorities arranged for the necessary truck transport to get the units moved. (The tribal housing authorities, as managers of the housing on each reservation, also selected those who would occupy the new units.) Applying its authority under the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act, the Department of Housing and Urban Development re-imburses tribal housing authorities the cost for moving and re-installing the housing units on the reservations. Hook-ups for water and electricity are prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation. The always-necessary but often overlooked “administrative costs” are covered through a combination of grants from foundations and – in at least one instance – by a personal contribution of the unpaid founder of the Walking Shield Society, Phil Stevens, a Lakota Indian.

Section 8033 reads, in its entirety: The

(a) IN GENERAL- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of the Air Force may convey at no cost to the Air Force, without consideration, to Indian tribes located in the States of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota relocatable military housing units located at Grand Forks Air Force Base and Minot Air Force Base that are excess to the needs of the Air Force.

(b) PROCESSING OF REQUESTS- The Secretary of the Air Force shall convey, at no cost to the Air Force, military housing units under subsection (a) in accordance with the request for such units that are submitted to the Secretary by the Operation Walking Shield Program on behalf of Indian tribes located in the States of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota.

(c) RESOLUTION OF HOUSING UNIT CONFLICTS- The Operation Walking Shield Program shall resolve any conflicts among requests of Indian tribes for housing units under subsection (a) before submitting requests to the Secretary of the Air Force under subsection (b).

(d) INDIAN TRIBE DEFINED- In this section, the term `Indian tribe' means any recognized Indian tribe included on the current list published by the Secretary of the Interior under section 104 of the Federally Recognized Indian Tribe Act of 1994 (Public Law 103-454; 108 Stat. 4792; 25 U.S.C. 479a-1).

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Darfur -- Hell's Ninth Circle?

On September 11, the National Defense University in Washington, DC. is hosting a one-day conference on “Sudan’s Peace Settlement: Progress and Perils.”

The settlement in question is the January 2005 agreement that ended the 21-year rebellion of southern Sudanese led by the late John Garang who died in a helicopter crash three weeks after joining a unity government as first vice-president. That agreement’s most significant features were:

- an integrated “north-south unity government” that guaranteed a vice-presidency for
the south in the Khartoum government and the integration of southern fighters into
the Sudanese army;

- sharing revenues (50 per cent) from Sudan’s exploitation of its petroleum assets
between the north and south; and

- a referendum on independence for the south six years from the signing of the peace

Many who reside in the south believe Khartoum is dragging its heels on implementing the accord because the international community’s attention has been diverted to Lebanon-Israel and to Darfur. Experts say there has been little if any progress in:

- changing security laws to bring them into line with the new national constitution;

- disarming, demobilizing, and integrating rebel fighters into the national army and
developing regional (north and south) armies;

- receiving any of the expected international resources to help with refugee resettlement;

- creating the capacity of the new south Sudan government to provide key services for
the population.

Considering just the treaty and its implementation, the failure to move forward decisively has bred widespread cynicism. The south is suspicious of the north and the north is suspicious of the south.

Meanwhile, Khartoum’s armed forces have renewed their assaults in western and northern Darfur against the Sudan Liberation Army. Media reports suggest that some “former rebel elements” may have joined Janjuweed irregulars and government troops in attacking villages. Estimates now place those killed in the Darfur region at 480,000 with another two million displaced – with more streaming into the camps along the border with or inside Chad. Moreover, Khartoum still refuses to agree to admit a UN peacekeeping force of 22,500 personnel to replace the overstretched 7,000 African Union force operating along the border with Chad. The AU contingent’s mandate expires the end of September, and without a replacement, many fear a genocidal assault by Khartoum on the Darfurans.

Negotiations with other rebel groups in Darfur and in eastern Sudan have made no progress. Complicating events on the ground in southern Sudan is Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army which reportedly has agreed in principle to end its 20 year war against Uganda and to stop attacking aid workers in southern Sudan. How well “principle” will translate into practice is the unknown question.

In Dante"'s Inferno, Hell's ninth circle is reserv ed for the great betrayers in human history At the Center is Satan and within his grasp are Judas, Brutus, and Cassius. One cannot help but wonder whether, were he writing today, Dante might not include some of those who have betrayed the people of Darfur.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Brief Look at the Theory of Fascism

On August 29 it was the Secretary of Defense. “Those who warned about a coming crisis, the rise of fascism and nazism, were ridiculed or ignored” in the 1920s and 1930s.

Two days later it was the President himself. “Those driven by the values of tyranny and extremism…[are the] successors to Fascists, to Nazis, to Communists, and other totalitarians of the 20th century.”

The venue was the 88th Annual American Legion Convention. The speeches were the opening salvos in a new rhetorical offensive to reverse the sinking U.S. public support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the amorphous “global war on terror” a.k.a. the “long war.”

The administration’s current ploy tries to create a philosophical link stretching back to the emergence of radical leftist (generally) nationalism in Italy in the 1870s. In the aftermath of World War I, groups espousing a curious mix of extreme anti-imperialism, anti-materialistic idealism with strong, even violent developmental activism on behalf of national liberation – ignoring Italy’s own reach for colonies – formed their own political movement in 1921 and seized power on October 28, 1922 when 100,000 Blackshirts marched on Rome. Over the ensuing three years, Mussolini maneuvered his way to the top of the party to become Il Duce (The Leader). This was heady stuff for a man who had spent much of his life wandering in the wilderness of political philosophy. (In an essay for the Institute for Historical Review, James Whisker notes that Mussolini had dabbled in anarchism, socialism, pacifism, internationalism, and statism.)

Over the following thirteen years, Mussolini gradually shifted the party’s orientation from its original leftist roots to a right-wing corporate syndicalism in which the state is the sole “value” to which all else is subservient. Everything that is part of the corporate state contributes its life and experiences to the creation of the unique collective experience of the state. Thus labor, capital, and the state working together would, the fascists believed, produce unparalleled prosperity for the masses as long as the population provided unwavering and unquestioning support of the “natural leaders” of the state.

Ensuring that this support remained unwavering requires the state, for its own survival, to see, participate in, or otherwise be aware of everything that the population is doing (or not doing). This requires the state to be supreme, otherwise it could be endangered from within. Since its first duty is its own survival, the corporate state assumes a life of its own that, in turn, defines the political relationships on which fascism rests. As Whisker summarizes: man is because the state is; without the state, mankind is nothing and can become nothing; and mankind’s “natural” condition is to be linked to the state.

Ironically, fascism, like Nazism, gained power because it succeeded in restoring social order – albeit by very violent, even brutal, means – and developed programs to combat the effects of the world-wide depression. But its greatest flaw was that to maintain its supremacy, the state had to expand constantly into new ventures and acquire more and more power. It could do this only through war and conquest followed by the incorporation of the “life” of the conquered state into its own.

In other words, war is the highest duty of the corporate state.

In terms of the Bush Doctrine of preventive war and his oft-repeated declaration that his first duty as president is to defend America against attack, there would seem to be little difference between the theory of the corporate state (facism) and the unitary presidency of George Bush.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The August Report on Iraq from the Pentagon

The Pentagon released its unclassified August 2006 quarterly report “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq.” This report, running 66 pages, Unfortunately, the classified annex contains the section of greatest interest to the public: possible force rotations that would lower the number of U.S. forces below the 138,000 currently in country.

The first section of the report directly addresses stability and security in Iraq and is based on the administration’s “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.” This addresses political, economic, and security considerations and notes – correctly – that the three are interdependent. But each is under pressure to meet deadlines or “conditions.”

Politically, the cabinet was approved June 8. The government has a four-month window during which the constitution is more easily amended, a concession to Sunni parliamentarians made during the campaign for the referendum on the constitution. But not all of the 24 committees of the Council of Representatives that are to look at issues have formed or met, and the four-month window expires October 8.

Economically, the Strategy for Victory, calls for “a sound market economy with the capacity to deliver essential services.” Given the demonstrated failure of the imported U.S. private sector to delivery consistent supplies of electricity and fresh water and remove sewage waste and garbage, the Iraqi government might want to try again to provide those services. Most communities in the U.S. receive these services from government or quasi-government entities; why does the “strategy” insist on “market economy” – a.k.a. private enterprise?

The security dimension captured most press coverage, especially the statement that “Conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq. Nevertheless, the current violence is not a civil war, and movement toward civil war can be prevented.” The report then acknowledges that in the last quarter, weekly attacks increased by 15% and Iraqi casualties rose 51% over the previous quarter, with most of the increase in Baghdad and its suburbs.

To back up its conclusion that Iraq is not in a civil war, the Pentagon’s Friday press conference featured via teleconferencing Colonel Thomas Vail, commanding officer of the 4th Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division whose current area of responsibility is east Baghdad. When asked to characterize the opposition he faced, Vail called it a “communal insurgency, “ which he then described as one that “depends on that particular area and that particular threat and who's violating the rule of law and what's the level of extortion and illicit operations.” Put another way, it’s like interest groups or “factions” in politics that form and reform as issues change – only in Baghdad the groups are armed and the shifts can be deadly.

Vail also noted that the current emphasis on trying to cut the violence levels in Baghdad – “34 battalions, 8,000 police, 42 police stations, and transition teams with every battalion – has concentrated military power in the capitol without severely draining other parts of the country. That works as long as the troop levels remain elevated.

However, the closer we come to the November U.S. elections, the greater the pressure from the White House on the generals to draw down U.S. forces to show “progress.”

Measured that way, progress is easily reversed; political and economic progress are better measures. The U.S. public needs to keep its eyes on the real ball.